Packers reporters Ryan Wood and Michael Cohen offer their thoughts on the team's 17-7 loss to the Chiefs in their preseason finale in Kansas City. (Sept. 2, 2016)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – From the day Al Jazeera America broadcast its documentary alleging Green Bay Packers outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers used performance-enhancing drugs, they maintained their innocence.
Clearing their name was more complicated.
As the NFL’s investigation drug out, Matthews and Peppers knew they were the rope in a tug-of-war for power. They also knew, Matthews acknowledged, the league had no credible evidence to demand their participation.
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Their names were cleared Wednesday after interviewing with the NFL last week. While they’re no longer involved with the investigation, that tug-of-war is sure to be revisited. Matthews said he’s still “obviously not happy” the league could force their participation without evidence.
“That’s why we stuck strong with the PA in regards to this,” Matthews said Thursday night inside Arrowhead Stadium’s visiting locker room. “Just because it sets a dangerous precedent. I think this is something that’ll come up within the next negotiations, CBA negotiations. It’s a very dangerous precedent.”
For months, Peppers said, the players and their union discussed “back and forth” how best to handle the league’s inquiry. They ultimately submitted for interviews, but not until the NFL threatened suspension if they didn’t cooperate before a league-imposed deadline.
Once they faced suspensions, Matthews said, the decision whether to interview with the league became easy.
“We weren’t ready to fall on the knife for something we’ve maintained our innocence about,” Matthews said. “Obviously, the interview proved that (we were innocent). It’s exactly that. Especially with the regular season starting, yeah, it’s good to get all that behind us and focused on the regular season starting with Jacksonville next week.”
Matthews offered few details about the interview process with “NFL brass,” as he described it. Peppers said the interview took roughly one hour.
A potential future Hall of Famer, Peppers said it was “upsetting” for his name to be allegedly involved with PEDs. He isn’t surprised the Al Jazeera America story gained so much traction, but is glad the ordeal is over.
“It was a slow time during the NFL, I guess,” Peppers said. “It got a little bit more attention than it deserved, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate that we as NFL players are always open to innuendo and rumors and stuff. That’s something that’s unfortunate that players are going to have to deal with.”
Matthews and Peppers could’ve pursued legal action to avoid interviewing with the NFL. That they quickly agreed revealed an eagerness to clear their name. It didn’t take long after the league finally received their cooperation.
Asked if he regretted not meeting with the NFL sooner, Peppers acknowledged “we all could’ve handled the situation a little differently” in hindsight.
It’s easy to see how quicker cooperation would have resolved their involvement with the NFL’s investigation sooner, Matthews said, but there was understandable trepidation. Trust is clearly lacking between the league and its players union. Matthews echoed those concerns Thursday night.
“Obviously you stick with the union and what we’d like to proceed with,” Matthews said, “but at the same time there’s a part of you that wants to get it over with and clear your name. It’s difficult in that regard, but at the same time we stuck it through to the end, until there ultimately was an ultimatum.
“And like I said, we weren’t willing to fall on the knife for something we didn’t do.”